by Ken Davies
Hybrid cars offer consumers an earth-friendly, economical way to get from place to place. Hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular all the time. They are much more fuel-efficient than conventional gas-powered cars and also offer a plethora of ancillary benefits, such as lower insurance rates and higher trade-in values. But before you get ready to plunk down a large chunk of change on a new hybrid car, it's a smart idea to know just how these modern marvels of technology work. Let's take a look.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hybrid as "two different types of components performing essentially the same function." That is exactly what the power plant of a hybrid vehicle does. Current hybrid automobiles combine the benefits of gasoline-powered engines with those of electric motors. By using electricity at specific times in the vehicle's operation, the gasoline engine is used less, thus dramatically increasing gas mileage. The more functions that are performed by the electric motor in a vehicle, the more fuel-efficient that vehicle becomes.
One advantage of the electric motors used in today's hybrid vehicles is that the batteries that power them do not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging. In most hybrid car designs, battery recharging occurs as the operator presses on the vehicle's brakes while driving. The kinetic energy created by braking is transformed into electricity through a series of magnets and is used to recharge the vehicle's battery while the car is in motion. Since the battery is recharged constantly, there is never a need to perform any sort of physical charging activity, significantly increasing the convenience of hybrid automobiles.
In addition to conserving fuel while the vehicle is moving, a hybrid car also saves fuel while it is standing still. When the car is idling, such as at a traffic light or while the operator is waiting for something, the gasoline engine automatically shuts down to let the electric motor power any energy output the car has, such as the heater, air conditioner or stereo. Idling gasoline engines are a major contributor to poor mileage and high pollution levels, so the elimination of idling emissions makes a significant contribution to both the vehicle's economy and environmental impact.